San Diego Planning Commission hearing Sept. 9 on ordinance for making temporary outdoor spaces permanent

Puesto restaurant's outdoor dining area on Wall Street in La Jolla
Puesto restaurant’s outdoor dining area on Wall Street in La Jolla has drawn criticism for taking up nine public parking spaces.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Ahead of a San Diego Planning Commission hearing Thursday, Sept. 9, the city released draft regulations and a design manual this week for its “Spaces as Places” ordinance, a proposal to transition temporary outdoor spaces to permanent places.

A primary example of space to which this could apply is outdoor dining that has proliferated since last year to help restaurants replace indoor capacity lost in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Planning Department developed the Spaces as Places initiative “to provide permanent options for outdoor dining that simultaneously provide flexibility for business owners to use the public right of way while contributing to the enjoyment of the public space, and increasing opportunities for more enjoyable pedestrian travel,” according to the city.

The Spaces as Places design manual identifies five types of spaces that could be permitted: sidewalk cafes, “social curbs,” promenades, outdoor dining on private property and “streetaries.” The latter previously have been referred to as parklets.

Sidewalk cafes, which existed before the pandemic, are outdoor dining spaces on the sidewalk area associated with adjacent eating and drinking establishments.

A social curb is a “permanent extension of the curb into the parking lane to facilitate a variety of uses and activities to create inviting places for people with all abilities,” according to the design manual.

The remaining three have either been recently implemented in or are being discussed for La Jolla.

Outdoor dining on private property is already present in The Village. It enables restaurants to expand into a private area such as a parking lot. Spaces as Places would include new regulations to allow permanent outdoor dining on private property to replace existing off-street parking while providing location and design requirements.

Sugar and Scribe restaurant on Fay Avenue extended its outdoor dining onto its parking lot.
Sugar and Scribe restaurant on Fay Avenue extended its outdoor dining onto its parking lot, which could be permanent under the city’s Spaces as Places program.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Streetaries are outdoor spaces created in street areas formerly dedicated to parking spaces that serve as an extension of an establishment that sells food and drinks. In La Jolla, several restaurants took their tables and chairs onto the street in such parklets.

One of the most notable was Puesto Mexican restaurant, which came under fire for its parklet taking up nine public parking spaces on Wall Street. Puesto management said it was seeking a permit to create a “placemaking pedestrian plaza,” which would open up the outdoor dining structure to the general public.

The fifth option, a promenade, is partially or completely closing a street to vehicle traffic to facilitate walking, biking, recreation, outdoor dining and public interaction. A proposal is circulating under the auspices of the La Jolla Village Merchants Association to close Wall Street to vehicle traffic for a weekly public street fair. Though the idea started making the rounds in August, the closure likely would not go into effect until next year.

Local review

When the La Jolla Traffic & Transportation Board discussed the Spaces as Places program in June, then-Chairman Dave Abrams said he wanted the board to track the program as it moves forward because it proposes permitting options that allow outdoor spaces to take up parking and “affect traffic flow.”

T&T trustee Patrick Ryan said at the time that “I do think outdoor dining is a phenomenal idea, but … if [the street] becomes property of the business, essentially they are getting something for nothing. … [It’s] a little scary to me.”

Abrams said T&T would “take action when and as appropriate.”

Later speaking with the La Jolla Light, he expressed concern that the city had not sent a representative to discuss the program in advance of the Planning Commission hearing.

“We tried to get some people involved to T&T a couple of times to brief us on it and they declined,” Abrams said. “I’m not opposed to this but am a little concerned they are jamming through a whole raft of regulations in a short time.”

In scanning the draft regulations and design manual, he said the positive is that there are a lot of regulations for people to abide by to establish an outdoor space. But the regulations “fall short in several areas,” he added.

“I think it’s a nice concept ... but there is a trade-off with the loss of parking spaces,” Abrams said. “I understand they are trying to enhance the livability of the neighborhood, and to a certain extent it does, and they are trying to make it work, but these restaurants are getting all this commercial space for practically nothing.”

The item is expected to be discussed at the La Jolla Community Planning Association meeting Thursday, Sept. 2.

The final decision on the ordinance will be made by the City Council at a future public hearing. Because the ordinance could apply to property in the coastal zone, it requires amending the city’s Local Coastal Program and approval from the California Coastal Commission. The ordinance would not be effective in the coastal zone until the commission unconditionally certifies the amendment.

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